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tv   KQED Newsroom  PBS  April 25, 2015 1:00pm-1:31pm PDT

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next on "newsroom" -- >> crowded, smelly, dirty. >> doesn't stick to its schedule. i'll put it that way. >> frustrated passengers and aging transit system. >> we'd love to expand service. we haven't got the money to do that, but we're trying creative things. >> making public transit work, now. good evening and welcome to kqed "newsroom." i'm thuy vu. we all know that getting around the bay area can be difficult. traffic is a mess, and public transportation isn't always easy. on tonight's show, we're going to look at what is and is not working with the bay area's biggest public transit system. in a moment, i'll talk with
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leaders of caltrain, muni and the valley transportation authority. but we'll begin with bart where ridership is soaring and passenger satisfaction is sinking. scott shaver spoke with bart's general manager, grace crunican. >> welcome to "newsroom." >> thank you. >> what do you see as the biggest challenge facing bart? >> well, we have a couple of challenges on our plate. we have the challenge of new riders wanting more of our service. we have the highest ridership ever. we have challenge of replacing almost the entire system. we're about 45 years old in construction. 42 years from the public's point of view. and we don't have the money to replace all of that. >> what's your experience? >> generally, really great. i love riding bart. and drake does too. >> if you could change anything about bart, what would it be? >> well, for one, i'd love to see bart run 24 hours. i think the bay area deserves a 24-hour transit system that reaches everywhere. >> we'd love to expand service.
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we haven't got the money to do that. i came to bart about 3 1/2 years ago. and the problems that they were facing at the time they last went out for the voter has to do with earthquake safety. so they put a lot of effort into earthquake safety, and they have done an excellent job at getting the system ready for the big one that's coming. but i think the focus has been on expanding the system. and on replacement. we've done some things to replace the existing system. but the age has crept on us quicker than the money available has. and quite frankly, the reason it's crept on us is the federal funds have been reducing. the state money is more -- we're more insecure. >> if you could change anything about it, what would it be? >> maybe more sitting. because, you know, it gets crowded, and we all stand like sardines, you know. >> bart has, i think, 100,000 more riders today than it had five years ago. when can riders really expect that they're going to see any kind of a difference in terms of how cramped the cars are?
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>> we call that the problem of success. and that problem will be aided with the new cars that are coming. we're very excited about the new cars. they start to roll in in 2017. >> so another two years really. >> yes. >> and in that time, ridership may continue to grow. >> yes. in that time ridership may continue to grow, but we are also trying some things like getting mechanics to turn the cars around quicker, more mechanics, and trying to take the old cars that have crashed. we have about six cars get them back into service. >> i'd love to see more unification of the public transportation system. one of the problems is if you want to get anywhere besides the mission or downtown or civic center, you know, bart will help you with that, but it can't get you up north or anywhere else. i'd love to see bart eshs involve to what you'd find from a transportation system in madrid or london or barcelona where people use their train at their primary form of transportation. >> how often do you take bart?
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>> daily. i'm on it daily. right now i'm having foot repair surgery, so i haven't been on in about two weeks. >> i'm wondering what you've learned about access to bart for people who are disabled. >> it's tougher to use when you're disabled. and you're very dependent on the elevators. and i really appreciate the folks that use it. i work with our access committee quite closely already. but i'm very sympathetic with the foot up and out with the elevator situation particularly. >> bart is one of the few if not only, major systems that doesn't have redundant tracks so if there's a breakdown it doesn't gum up the whole works for the whole system. why is that? and what would it take to fix? >> when bart was originally designed, it didn't have those redundancies in it. >> how much money would it take to bring bart service up to the standards you'd like it to be? >> it would take a huge amount of money. and when i tell you that we've
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got $4.8 billion in needs, that's to replace the existing system. that doesn't count any additional funds that would be needed to -- and i'm sure it would be in the billions to provide the redundancy that we would really love to have. >> we've seen an uptick in the number of suicide attempts and suicides on bart tracks. how concerned are you about that and what are you doing? >> we have noticed a slight uptick, and we have reached out to mental health professionals in the bay area. and they have helped us craft a program to train our employees on how to identify people in crisis. and then how to work with them when they see them at the stations. we're also putting up signs with the crisis hotline number so that someone contemplating this would have somewhere to call and reach out to. >> what would make it a better experience for you? >> sometimes there's crazy people on bart, and they scare me. so like we need more protection. that would be awesome.
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>> more security? >> yes. >> i ride bart, and i often get off at a station with a lot of homeless people lying there, sleeping and so on. how tough a problem is that for bart? >> the homeless problems we have are primarily in the san francisco stations. and it has to do with the population that's in san francisco. we're doing our best to honor the rights that the homeless people have, so if they are sitting or standing, they can remain in the station. but if you're laying down or sleeping officers are there to move them along, to find shelter in some other places. we also have invested in a social worker who works with the police to try and get the homeless into services. so we take down their name and see what services might be available for them, and trying to get them into programs to help. >> how tough are the politics of that? >> the politics of everything at bart are pretty tough. and the homeless population is someone that the city has had a hard time housing. and we're very sympathetic to
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that situation, but that doesn't mean bart should take the place of a home for people that really deserve to have a home. >> what's it like? >> crowded. smelly. dirty. >> but you do use it? >> of course. there's no other choice. otherwise, vuyou have to drive, and that just isn't going to work. >> i think overall, the past couple of years they are cleaner. and they are upgrading the cars all the time. and as someone who pays for bart, i'm willing to pay as long as they keep improving it. >> i think everyone loves bart owns bart and wants it to work well. and we have had 100,000 more riders added to the system over the past few years. so the stresses are more obvious to everyone. >> there's been talk in the legislature and someone who's running for the legislature about banning public transit strikes. what's your position on that? >> i don't really have a position on that. we do pretty well right now in working with our unions. i know we had the difficulty at the last negotiation. but we're working with the right to strike right now. and the board is taking no position on trying to take that
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right away from the workers. >> is that so to speak a third rail? >> you're on your own there. >> okay. and joining me now to discuss the bay area public transportation systems are michael hursh, chief operating officer at the santa clara valley transportation authority. jim hartnett san mateo transit district, including caltrain and the bus system. and ed reiskin, head of muni. ed, i want to begin with muni. we talk to passengers about their experience on muni and heard their comments. let's take a look first of all. >> what's your experience? >> it really depends on where you're going. some places are okay. the others, there's fights all the time and things. >> it depends where i take it. i would say most of the time, 99% of the time, it's perfect. in the tenderloin it can get a
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little weird. >> maybe more frequency with buses at nighttime. a lot of people commute at night. >> you don't like waiting on the corner for a bus when it's supposed to be there and it's not. >> so your reaction. frequency seems to be one of the biggest complaints. not enough buses. >> it is. we have more demand than we have the ability to meet right now. the good news is that thanks in part to the state of the economy in san francisco which we are in part beneficiaries of, we have more funding for our operating budget. and in fact, two days from now this saturday, august -- or april 25 we're going to be increasing service on the lines that carry the most riders, so along the mission corridor the geary corridor. some of the real work horse lines we'll be increasing frequency. all told over the course of our two-year budget, increasing by about 10%, which generally is increasing frequency. and meeting the needs later at night is more of a challenge. because that's in some ways the
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most expensive time for us to meet -- to increase frequency. we had a late night transportation task force take place in san francisco last year and we're all working between the regional providers as well in terms of adding increased service. but it's a good problem to have. people want to ride our system, and we're in the position right now because of the state of the economy to be able to provide it. >> you're making those changes, but muni's reliability is still a problem. your on-time performance in february was about 58%. that's far below the voter mandated requirement of 85%. why isn't muni more reliable when it comes to on time performance? >> the majority of the muni system rides on the surface streets of san francisco. we do have a portion of the rail system that's underground. but for the most part, we're out in mixed traffic. and our streets were designed 50 60 70 years ago, and they weren't designed with rapid transit service in mind.
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so one of the biggest challenges we have is the design of the streets. we also have other issues of vehicle reliability and operator availability. the good news is that again with some of the -- our fiscal situation being a little bit more positive, we have invested a lot in the maintenance of the vehicles and replacement of vehicles so that our vehicle reliability is increasing. we've been hiring hundreds of more operators. so our operator availability is getting better. and last november, the voters of san francisco approved a $500 million general obligation bond that will enable us to make investments in the streets of san francisco that will allow us to reduce muni delays, which in turn will increase reliability. so it's very far, as you said, from where we'd like it to be or from where our mandate or charter goal is. but we have i think a lot of the building blocks in place to really start to move the needle on increased on time performance. >> i wanted to ask you about a different money issue as well.
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over the past decade the amount of money paid in overtime has roughly doubled. and most of that overtime money is going to drivers. why is muni spending so much on overtime, and yet the on time performance continues to suffer? >> there's really two pieces to the overtime. one is like many transit systems, we schedule in overtime because often it's cheaper to pay an operator overtime for a long day than it would be to hire an additional employee. so there's a chunk of that overtime, and it's in the millions of dollars, that's scheduled. but we do have a fair amount of unscheduled overtime, and that's largely the result of cutbacks and hiring freezes that were made during the recession starting in 2008. at that time muni stopped hiring operators and now that the economy is picking up we found that -- and people continue to retire and leave the agency, we have found ourselves short in terms of having the
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operators that we need to deliver the service that our service plan calls for. so we use overtime to fill those gaps. that overtime now that we've been able to hire up on operators and increase our hiring on the maintenance side as well, that overtime is coming down. >> okay. meanwhile, your ridership is continuing to climb. you're at 700,000 riders a day now. . i wanted to ask also about the vta, michael hursh. you have seen a bit of an uptick in ridership but it's still fairly low. especially on light rail. you're averaging about 35000 riders a day. i grew up in san jose and i still go to san jose a lot. when those vta light rail systems go by, there's hardly anybody on there. why do so few people use your system? and what are you doing about it? >> i think ridership is one of the biggest challenges we have for vta. we have such a large operating area, over 350 square miles. for us to serve all of our communities is a challenge.
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we don't have a concentrated what we call origin destination. and san francisco is an example. you have people that come from the t avenues that want to get to the financial district. people want to go all directions all the time in our region so it's difficult to schedule service to meet all of those demands. we have seen tremendous development particularly in the north area of our light rail system. you see a tremendous amount of residential development. the downturn in the economy was a tough time for us, but as ed said we are all seeing the ridership come back. we have had very successful ridership around levi's stadium the 49ers new stadium. very encouraged by what we see on the horizon. >> but you're still heavily taxpayer subsidized. >> we do rely on taxes for a vast majority of our funding. >> we spoke to mayors of the silicon valley recently and talked about a number of issues with them, including transit. and some of them expressed
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frustration with the vta. let's look at what one of them said. >> we are largely driven by the valley transportation agency in terms of transportation. and unfortunately the way that vta tends to work is they respond after the fact. they don't proactively go out and develop transportation solutions in advance. >> michael hush >> michael hursh how do you respond? >> that's not a true statement. the taxpayers funding the bart expansion is the way we are being proactive. >> residents are paying to bring bart into their area. we are working diligently to build our bus rapid transit system. and some of the communities haven't fully supported that. there are still communities that are still very car centric. land use is definitely -- the transit authority can't do it
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alone. we're dependent on land use decisions. when new business developments come in with lots of free parking, it makes it very difficult for transit to be an attractive solution. >> if i could add, up until recently the bay area and really the rest of california had not integrated land use and transportation planning. so with recent changes in state law that's forced us to do what they call sustainable plans for the regions the transportation was really just chasing independent, localized, and fragmented land use decision making. now we have plan bay area, which is really trying to tie those together so that the transportation agencies and providers can plan together with the land use decision making so you don't end up with a situation where you have development taking place maybe with lots of parking in an area that's going to be difficult for transit to serve. >> and we'll talk more about that in just a moment.
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but i want to turn to jim harken now because we don't want to leave out caltrain. in fact, we talked to some passenger of caltrain, and we want to look at what they told us as well. >> i really like it actually. i can do anything. sometimes it's overcrowded, but in general i really like it. i rely on public transportation. >> it's comfortable. it takes far less time than driving these days. >> having wi-fi would be great. not having to mess with a mobile hot spot would be super convenient. >> it was a game in san francisco. and then caltrain let people drink in the train. and then i saw everybody drinking beer, vodka, alcohol. so i -- yesterday, i really had a hard time. >> jim, what do you think about what they just said? >> well i am very pleased that people like the service.
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and that it meets their needs. >> not what it comes to wi-fi and too much drinking after the giants games. >> sure. but during commute time we are standing room only so we must be doing something right. on the wi-fi, it's been looked at in the past, and we're going to look at it again. on the special event days the giants games that's when there are complaints about drinking. and we have been talking about that, how to better police it. >> how will you better police it? >> well, our transit police screen people coming back from the giants games in particular. they have become very adept at identifying those people that perhaps should not be back on the train. and they found overall that the primary complaints often are language that isn't appropriate for families. that's the biggest complaint really.
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you know, that comes from drinking. but it also comes from people who aren't drinking and who are just using inappropriate language. >> and some of these complaints, a lot of these complaints, have to do with the overcrowding that happens after special events like a giants game. what are you doing to address the overcrowding issue? >> well we run extra trains during the time of special events. so we anticipate that there are going to be more people. in fact, i think generally speaking there are over 600,000 additional riders due to the giants games, which is quite a few riders. and it's just the nature of the beast in terms of a whole bunch of people trying to get on additional trains at the same time. sometimes you just can't fit them all in the way you would like to. but, you know, we've been proactive with respect to that. and as you may know, we've also bought 16 additional cars. train cars that we're using to
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increase our capacity. and we'll be adding those over time. >> over this year or next year? when? >> well, we're testing the first car now, so we hope to have an additional train set of six cars instead of five. and we'll have a time schedule laid out pretty soon for when we'll be able to phase in the additional cars. it will give us more passenger capacity and more bike capacity as well as predictability for bikes. >> i'd like to ask you about the issue of suicides as well. we do see suicides on the tracks as an ongoing challenge for caltrains. you have tried different programs over the years and nothing seems to have worked all that effectively. what are you doing now that's different? >> well first of all, suicides is a national problem. it's not a transit problem. it is an issue that all of us have to deal with in our families, in our communities. you know, there are -- in the three counties that caltrain
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serves, over 300 suicides a year. some of those are on the transit systems. but, you know we are actively engaged with the communities that are most affected. we have called for grand alliances among the members from the community to address this as the social problem that it is. so, you know we're doing the best we can to treat it as it is. and that it's a mental health issue. primarily. and the solutions are going to come there rather than from a transit district. >> okay. this is a question for all three of you. we surveyed our audience on facebook. and the biggest question we kept on getting over and over again was this. why are bay area transit systems not better integrated? and i'll begin with you, ed. >> well, i think they are
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probably not better integrated because they all have come from different places. they all have different beginnings and birthplaces. muni came into being in 1912 and developed from a streetcar system into a very diverse system that we have today. you know, each of these different districts evolved over time to meet different needs. it is something that we recognize that we could be doing better. we have been general managers of the major agencies in the region meet every month. it's something that grace and i started when we came into our positions. and working with metropolitan transportation commission on ways to try to make the transferring between the agencies more seamless. but we have partnerships. our biggest overlap is with bart. so you can buy a muni pass, and that lets you ride free on bart in san francisco. we have discounts and transfer agreements between various providers. i think taking those kinds of
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things and rolling them out throughout the region better customer information things like the 5-1-1 system helps a lot. i think we can use technology and communications to bridge some of what today appears to be fragmentation to our riders. >> michael, what can be done better? >> i think that the fair collection system. we're happy that we have the clipper card, but it's a technology that really hasn't kept up. we should be able to ride seamlessly between the agencies. it shouldn't take a plastic card. mtc is working on a new fare collection system. we should be able to rely on our smartphones and transfer seamlessly. the technology is there to know whether it's a vta bus or a caltrain or a muni bus. the technology is there to recognize it's a connected trip. >> i'm sorry. >> and we just need to fast forward and get a modern fare collection system deployed and implemented as soon as possible. >> that's what i wanted to ask jim about as well. you're talking about the technology. it exists. what are you doing about that to
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try to integrate and have that seamlessness? >> well i think as ed mentioned the general managers each meet monthly together to talk about these issues. and the clipper card issue, which is really the integrated funding issue. but i'd like to emphasize what ed said, and that is, you know we're each borne of our own experiences. our caltrain system came from southern pacific that wanted to get out of passenger rail service. and in the 1970s, passenger rail service was saved through an alliance of santa clara san mateo, and san francisco counties. but led by san mateo county at the time. so the system was born as a stand-alone system, just to save passenger rail. so it's come a long way in terms of working together regionally. so there's going to be
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tremendous efforts over the next years to integrate and be more seamless. but there isn't going to be in the next number of years one bay area transit district that takes care of all the transit needs. it just isn't going to happen. >> i want to ask all of you about the role of private transit as well. we have seen everything from google buses to services like chariot here in san francisco that will take people from one neighborhood to a designated neighborhood, serving a small population, but taking it private. to what extent are they helping to solve the transit problems? do you see them as something that is complimentary to what you do or maybe undermines support for public transit? ed? >> i think it depends. i think the commuter shuttles, the so-called google buses are filling a need that can't be met by transit right now. and a little bit this relates back to the land use discussion. because you have large employers that are not transit accessible
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on the peninsula. and you have a bunch of people who are in san francisco, want to live in san francisco and there's not a great transit link. it would be a much longer ride without the direct link that these buses provide. >> michael hursh you wanted to chime in as well. >> i do. any time people elect to get into a bus any time people carpool, that's part of the solution. but i also have concerns about the safety of those vehicles. are they regulated? are they as safe as a public transit vehicle? are they as accessible? i know some of them have no accessibility. also we need to make sure that the employees of those vehicles are treated fairly. they need to have living wage jobs, and they need to have job security and be contributing members to the community. so it helps, but there's also room for improvement. >> all good questions. thank you very much for joining me today. michael hursh about vta ed
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reiskin with muni, and ed hartnett with caltrain. thank you for joining us tonight. i'm thuy vu. have a good night.
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headlines all across the country. we'll take an in depth look at immunizations and whether it is the right decision to take the shot. there has been no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism but it's also hard to prove that it doesn't and so i think there's a lingering in people who are choosing not to, a lingering doubt this and more in this edition of equal time the decision of immunizations starts with families. dustin dorsey takes us along with a bay area family to get their child immunized this is christopher he is 8 months old today, his parents kayleigh cosimano